Food poisoning cases double over the summer, so remember these simple steps to help keep food safe.
Food poisoning is usually mild, and most people get better within a week. But sometimes it can be more severe, even deadly, so it's important to take the risks seriously. Children, older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.
"The safest option is to fully cook food indoors using your oven," says a spokesperson from the Food Standards Agency (FSA). "You can then put the cooked food on the barbecue for a short time to flavour." This can be an easier option if you're cooking for a lot of people at the same time.
If you are only cooking on the barbecue, the two main risk factors are:
- undercooked meat
- spreading germs from raw meat on to food that's ready to eat
This is because raw or undercooked meat can contain germs that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter. However, these germs will be killed by cooking meat until it is steaming hot throughout.
Germs from raw meat can easily move on to your hands and then on to anything else you touch, such as food that is cooked and ready to eat. It is therefore important to wash your hands after handling raw meat.
Cooking meat on a barbecue
When you're cooking most types of meat on a barbecue, such as poultry (chicken and turkey, for example), pork, burgers or sausages, make sure:
- the coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means they're hot enough
- frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it
- you turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly
Remember that most types of meat are safe to eat only when:
- the meat is steaming hot throughout
- there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part
- any juices run clear
"Don't assume that because meat is charred on the outside it will be cooked properly on the inside," says the FSA spokesperson. "Cut the meat at the thickest part and ensure none of it is pink on the inside."
It is also important to remember that disposable barbecues can take longer. You should always check your meat is cooked thoroughly.
Some meat, such as steaks and joints of beef or lamb, can be served rare as long as the outside has been properly cooked. This will kill any bacteria that might be on the outside of the meat.
However, food made from any type of minced meat, such as pork sausages and beef burgers, must be cooked thoroughly all the way through.
Germs from raw meat can move easily on to your hands and then on to anything else you touch, including food that is cooked and ready to eat. This is called cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination can happen if raw meat touches anything - including plates, cutlery, tongs and chopping boards - that then comes into contact with other food.
Some easy steps to help prevent cross-contamination are:
- always wash your hands after touching raw meat
- use separate utensils (plates, tongs, containers) for cooked and raw meat
- never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has had raw meat on it
- keep raw meat in a sealed container away from foods that are ready to eat, such as salads and buns
- never wash raw chicken or other poultry before cooking as this increases the risk of spreading bacteria around the kitchen
- don't put raw meat next to cooked or partly cooked meat on the barbecue
- don't put sauce or marinade on cooked food if it has already been used with raw meat
Keeping food cool
It's also important to keep some foods cool to prevent food poisoning germs multiplying.
Make sure you keep the following foods cool:
- milk, cream, yoghurt
- desserts and cream cakes
- ham and other cooked meats
- cooked rice, including rice salads
Don't leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don't leave food in the sun.
Fire and carbon monoxide risk
Make sure your barbecue is steady on a level surface, away from plants and trees. The Fire Service advises covering the bottom of your barbecue with coal to a depth of no more than 5cm (2in).
With charcoal barbecues, only use recognised fire lighters or starter fuel and only on cold coals - use the minimum necessary and never use petrol. See more on the Fire Service's barbecue safety tips.
If you're camping, you are advised never to light, use or leave smouldering barbecues inside tents, awnings or other enclosed spaces because of the risks of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Article provided by NHS Choices